Children’s Rights

The United Nations Convention On The Rights Of The Child

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) is the clearest and most comprehensive expression of what the world community wants for its children. The Convention is the most universally accepted human rights instrument in history (except for the United States and Somalia, it has been ratified by every country in the world) and is the only treaty that puts into legally binding form the entire range of human rights: political, social, economic, cultural, and humanitarian. The UNCRC arose as a reaction to the weakening global humanitarian response to children. During the momentum of the 1979 International Year of the Child, the government of Poland proposed a drafting process for a legally binding human rights treaty, thus taking the first steps in establishing the UNCRC. The United Nations unanimously endorsed the convention on November 20, 1989, and it became international law in 1990.

The 54 articles of the UNCRC can be divided into four main parts: guiding principles, rights articles, monitoring systems, and process of ratification. The four guiding principles are: nondiscrimination, best interest of the child, survival and development, and participation. Articles on rights apply to all children under 18 years of age and seek to safeguard and uphold children’s minimal health, civil, humanitarian, and family rights. For example: protection of children against discrimination, abuse and neglect, and armed conflict is outlined in Articles 2, 19, and 38, respectively. Parent-child relationships are protected and defined in several articles (parental guidance, Article 5; parental separation, Article 9; and family reunification, Article  10).  It  calls  on  countries  to  ensure survival of children to the maximum extent (health care, food, and clean water, Article 24; education, Articles 28, 29). It articulates that children should have increasing opportunities to participate in society as preparation for responsible adulthood (name and nationality, Articles 7 and 8). Countries’ obligations toward dissemination, implementation, and monitoring are spelled out in Articles 42 to 45. The final set of articles (46 to 54) outline the process of ratification.

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The UNCRC focuses on the rights of the child from a developmental ecological perspective. It assumes that the child’s overall development is a function of a number of factors (psychological, social, educational, and cultural) and contexts (home, school, community, and country). The UNCRC outlines the legal responsibilities of governments to ensure that children  have  the  family  support  and  resources  to grow up to be responsible adults. The Convention reaffirms the fact that children, because of their vulnerability, need special care and protection and consequently has set standards in health care and education and in legal, civil, and social services.

The Convention has served as a vital tool for advocacy and programming. For instance, advocating for the demobilization of child soldiers in war-torn regions, such as Sierra Leone, was possible because of Article 38, which requires “that states parties take all feasible measures to ensure that persons who have not attained the age of 15 years do not take direct part in the hostilities” and further “refrain from recruiting any person who has not attained the age of 15 into their armed forces.” A rights base approach to programming is evident in many early childhood intervention efforts around the world. For instance, Save the Children has developed the indicators to assess the quality of early child care programs in central and east Africa rooted in the framework of the UNCRC.

In conclusion, UNCRC has made a vital contribution to recognizing the fundamental dignity of the child  by  seeking  respect  for  children,  highlighting the importance of the family, and establishing clear responsibilities of the larger community (i.e., country) to uphold the rights of all children everywhere.


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  2. McMillan, N., & Swales, D. M. (2004). Quality indicators for child care programmes: East and central Africa. London: Save the
  3. Rebello, P., Cummings, , & Gardinier, M. (1995, April). The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child: A call to child development professionals around the world. Paper presented at the biennial meeting of the Society for Research in Child Development, Indianapolis, IN.
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